Sunday, September 6, 2009

Memories as Things

According to Proust's In Search of Lost Time (which I haven't read), the protagonist is suddenly flooded by a surge of memories by the simple act of eating a madeleine. I have always wanted to study the connection of the senses and memory, since sometimes even the smallest things will trigger a slew of images and scenes ripped from certain moments of my life. There was one time when I was at some park with a friend and this girl he was dating. We were all on top of some kind of jungle gym-type thing when a man walked by, reeking of cologne. As soon as that scent tickled my nostrils I was sent back maybe two or three years, when I would occasionally have a tryst with a girl I went to high school with. Everything was real, tangible, uncannily so. Those evenings when we would meet in random areas around my neighborhood, her eating a popsicle and slobbering all over herself, telling me to repeat everything that I say because she wasn't paying attention. It all came back and horrified me. The discomfort made me want to leave immediately, but I was stuck and tried to focus my attention back on the two love birds and their discussion of penis sizes.

The smell of chlorine reminds me of most of my friendship with the above-mentioned fellow. I had known him since elementary school (kindergarten if he is to be believed), and because he lived in a condo, my only chances for swimming would be either at his place or at my aunt's. The smell of chlorine brings it all back; swimming under a black sky, lit up by the lamplights, smoking cigarettes, talking about girls, music, our band, and why I needed to convince my folks to move to Dana Point.

Songs are notorious memory-fetchers. The song "Studio Hair Gel," possibly more than any other song, reminds me of when I started going to dance clubs. I don't remember when the DJ started playing that song, or for how many months (years?) it was played, but it reminds me of drinking Jack in the Box cups filled with vodka and orange juice in the parking lot, going up the stairs buzzed, and dancing frantically in a dark room. Unlike many songs that I was introduced to by this club, this specific song brings back that venue and those nights, and the nostalgia gets the best of me. If I ever want to remember how my life was in my early 20's, I need only play that song.

Then there are books. The final pages of Ulysses reminds me of my aunt's house, near the pool, where I finished it. A section of 1984, where a note that says "I love you" is picked up by Winston Smith, reminds me of the break room at my old library. The part of Grapes of Wrath where the mother is trying to buy hamburger from a cold-hearted store owner reminds me of my current library's parking lot, where I heard this section played in my car. The part in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler where the "bologna" clue is discovered, along with a scene in Necroscope where a corpse pops out of a river, reminds me of the couch in my living room.

Memory itself is a changeable thing, and I wonder how many of these memories have been unconsciously manipulated by me. They certainly seem real, like lucid dreams where I have both made love and died, and it felt as real as the memories described. I guess the world that has been created over the years in my mind is the only true thing that I have, since reality, as I know, is filtered through my senses and processed by my brain. As long as I can pull these things back up at will, nothing that I have experienced will be gone. There is something comforting about that, and if death is merely a kind of dream state that just shuts off at the end, the final memory fading away, then I should have no fear of dying.

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